(LONDON) — In one of her final engagements as a working member of Britain’s royal family, Duchess Meghan focused on women to mark International Women’s Day.
The Duchess of Sussex made a private visit Friday to Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham, England, for a special assembly recognizing the achievements of women.
“When we thought about what I wanted to do for International Women’s Day this year, for me it was incredibly important to be with the women of our future,” Meghan said in a speech to students. “And that is all of the young women here, as well as the young men who play a very large part in this. Specifically coming to your school made a lot of sense for me because of this social justice and the impact that it’s rooted in.”
The borough of Dagenham is where female Ford Motor Plant workers held a strike for equal pay in 1968, which helped lead to the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, according to Buckingham Palace.
Meghan encouraged students, both boys and girls, at the school to take the example of the Ford workers and “really stand in your truth, to stand for what is right – to continue to respect each other.”
“For young men, to continue to value and appreciate the women in your lives, and also set the example for some men who are not seeing it that same way,” she said. “You have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life – protect them. Make sure that they are feeling valued and safe. Let’s all rally together to make International Women’s Day something that is not just on Sunday – but frankly, feels like every day of the year.”
Meghan’s choice to mark International Women’s Day as she completes her royal duties reinforces the theory that she is poised to amplify her voice as an advocate for women’s rights once she and Prince Harry relinquish their roles as working royals on March 31.
In their new roles, Harry and Meghan plan to launch a new nonprofit organization that will operate outside of the royal family.
While details of the organization will be released later this year, Meghan plans to continue to focus her work on “women’s empowerment, gender equality and education,” a spokesperson for the Sussexes confirmed last month.
She plans to keep her four royal patronages in the U.K., which includes Smart Works, a charity that focuses on helping women and has so far been Meghan’s most public patronage. The duchess worked with designers to create a capsule fashion collection last fall to benefit the charity.
What remains to be seen is how Meghan will use her voice outside of the royal confines and outside of the U.K., specifically in North America, where the Sussexes plan to spend most of their time.
In the frenzied aftermath of Harry and Meghan’s surprise decision in January to “step back” from royal duties, Meghan made two quiet but still headline-making visits to women-focused organizations in Vancouver, Canada, near where the couple has been living with their 9-month-old son Archie.
She visited a women’s shelter in an often-overlooked neighborhood of Vancouver and later visited a girls’ organization to discuss social justice and leadership.
Starting in April, Meghan and Harry will no longer represent Queen Elizabeth at engagements and will no longer travel on her behalf around the world.
In past engagements and overseas tours, Meghan has used her voice as a royal to bring women’s issues to the forefront.
During what we now know was the couple’s last tour as working royals, Meghan gave a defining speech while meeting with young girls in Nyanga, a township in Cape Town known as one of the most dangerous places in South Africa.
“While I’m here as a member of the royal family, I stand here before you as a mother, a wife, a woman, as a woman of color and as your sister,” Meghan said during that September trip, during which she also highlighted the importance of girls’ access to education.
Meghan also used her voice later in the trip about her struggles as a new mom living under a global spotlight.
“Especially as a woman it’s really — it’s a lot,” Meghan said in the documentary “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.” “So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom and trying to be a newlywed. And also thank you for asking, because not many people will have asked if I’m OK.”
“But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she said.
As Meghan steps out on her own with Harry, she’ll have even more of a platform to speak candidly about both her experience as a woman and what she wants to achieve for women.
Fighting for women’s empowerment is a cause Meghan attached to at age 11, writing a series of letters that she claims changed how women were portrayed in a commercial for dish soap. She continued her activism for women as an actress and brought that same passion into her work as a royal when she wed Prince Harry in 2018.
In addition to supporting Smart Works, Meghan has during her time as a royal spoken out in favor of girls’ education, spread messages of support to women in sex work, launched a cookbook supporting women, delivered a speech on women’s suffrage and feminism and visited a bakery that employs women working their way back from obstacles, to name just a few.
One of the most high-profile projects of the past year for Meghan was guest editing the bestselling September issue of British Vogue. Meghan’s “Forces for Change” issue highlighted activist women like maternal rights advocate and model Christy Turlington, feminist and actress Yara Shahidi and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and featured Meghan interviewing former first lady Michelle Obama.
To see what may guide Meghan as she charts her future advocacy work, it may be helpful to reflect on what she said at an event on last year’s International Women’s Day.
“If things are wrong and there is a lack of justice and an inequality, someone needs to say something,” Meghan said at the London event. “And why can’t it be you?”
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